Sochi 2014: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I just returned from a week long trip to Sochi for the Winter Olympics and wanted to share some of my thoughts. Feel free to comment or tweet questions!

The good:

Our main goal of going to Sochi was to network with athletes, and there was certainly no shortage of athletes to meet. We had access to the USA and Canadian Olympic Houses which was where we met most of them. Those two houses were located in the Coastal Cluster (the area near where I stayed) which was home to all of the arena sports. The Mountain Cluster was a long and slow train ride away on what was called a “high speed” electric train. These houses were for the athletes and their familes, and was different than the team houses where the athletes actually lived, which we did not have access to.

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We met many parents of athletes, many of whom had heard of us before due to the athletes we had competing (4 Canadians, 2 Americans, and an Australian who just won a silver medal today) but they still had a good amount of questions for us.

My favorite part of the whole trip was meeting the athletes that are a part of our team. I was lucky enough to meet Arianne Jones (Canadian Luge) at the Sanki Sliding Center in the mountains, and spent some time with Aly Dudek and Chris Creveling (US Speedskating) in the Olympic Village, and Catherine Lemire (Canadian Marathoner) inside the Canadian house.

(Aly and Chris are 2nd and 4th from the left)

After so many back and forth tweets with these athletes, both on the brand side as well as on my own personal account, it was so incredible to meet them in person. They do so much to support us, so it was great to be able to thank them in person and provide them with whatever they needed while we were there.

I also had a blast watching speedskating, aerials, skeleton and bobsled. I missed out on seeing USA hockey due to a particularly slow trip home from the mountain.

The apartment we stayed in was comfortable, which we were very fortunate to have found compared to some of the other options out there.

The security was very present at all times, and thankfully that was the case based on the magnitude of the event. Before getting on the train or entering any of the Olympic venues, we went through a full body scan and pat down. Before boarding the plane in JFK bound for Russia, every single bag was searched, which delayed our flight by two hours. I was more than ok with that for safety’s sake.

I brought quite a bit of my own food in the form of bars (KIND, PRO bars, Raw Rev and Organic Food Bar) which leads me to…

The bad:

Our days were LONG. We were up at 7am and often didn’t get back until 2 or 3am, while also walking around nearly all day. A couple of times it was 3:30 or 4 before we were asleep, and then up again after a quick nap. It was eggs for breakfast just about every day, and that was the only consistency we had in terms of food. Lunch often didn’t happen due to a lack of time, so I was pretty thankful I brought 15 or so of those bars because I would’ve been pretty hungry otherwise, especially with the 5+ (probably more) miles I’m sure we walked every day. Dinner was also scarce for most of the nights, and sometimes didn’t happen at all until we got home and made eggs again at 2am. We did have a great dinner the one night we were at the USA house, but surprisingly the dinner at the Canadian house wasn’t anything to write home about.

I was pretty thankful for my ENERGYbits while in Sochi, because for the most part (besides the bars) they were basically my sole source of nutrition. Recoverybits were also a blessing because there was plenty of drinking, especially at the Canada House. All of the food available at the Olympic venues were either BBQ (the shishkabobs were fairly decent but only available at certain places), hot dogs or some sort of fried potatoes or some other foods that I’m not quite sure what the English translation would be.

Our bathroom was located on the balcony, which I knew in advance but thought it was just something that was lost in translation. When we got there, we learned that the bathroom was basically a heated hut on the 2nd floor balcony. With Sochi being a resort city, I’m sure it’s pretty awesome in the summer.

There were stray dogs everywhere, and they often were laying face down on the ground and looked barely alive.

I quickly learned that most of the English translations were inaccurate or totally off… or just really strange, like the one below from the mountain area. This was somewhat funny at first, but when we couldn’t figure out how to get to the right train track, was pretty frustrating.

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With our crazy busy schedule which consisted of not having a spare minute until I got back to the Moscow airport for my layover, I didn’t have a chance to run for 8 days. I ran today for a couple of miles, and last Friday before I left I raced a 10k and aimed for sub-45 (I was off by 37 seconds). I’m excited to get back to my marathon training this week.

The ugly:

My flight from Sochi to Moscow landed at 11pm, and we were there until we left for JFK 12 hours later. Sochi is 9 hours ahead compared to Boston, but with our crazy sleep schedule, it was more like 13 hours ahead anyways. I stayed up til 8am (11pm east coast time) in an effort to readjust quicker. There were no water fountains in the airport (most people drink bottled water instead of tap anyways due to quality) so I unfortunately ended up spending quite a bit of money on water, which adds up quickly at $3-4 per small bottle. Around 4am I found the first good coffee I had all week, and it ran me $11. A $4 cup from Starbucks finally sounds like a bargain.

We sat with a guy who was on our flight and didn’t leave again until 3pm. He told us all about his experience in Sochi. He said when he arrived to his hostel, they told him that they had a “surprise” for him. The surprise was that he would be “very uncomfortable” if he slept in the room that was assigned to him originally, because it was in fact, not finished while also being double booked. The room he ended up in had a wooden plank as a frame with a thin mattress on top. He said it was basically just a couple of sheets on top of a piece of wood. On top of that, the hostel had no hot water all week. My shower may have been outside (and the shower head was waist high) but at least we had hot water. I heard lots of stories like this – most of the people that stayed in hotels had some sort of ridiculous issue. One person I met didn’t have door knobs until halfway through his stay. Shower curtains must have been at a premium too, as that was another common complaint.

Overall, I had a pretty incredible experience in Sochi. It was great to put a real face to the twitter handles I have been interacting with for months/years now, and meet quite a few more athletes.

Other thoughts:

Family. There’s a lot said about the countless hours of training that goes into an Olympian’s journey, but not nearly enough said about the family of the athlete. They sacrifice many days/weeks of travel, dollars and free time to help their athlete achieve their goals. It was incredible to meet so many of the families behind the athletes while in Sochi, and hear their stories too.

For such a huge, worldwide event, I was surprised by the amount of marketing going on – I would have expected much more activation from the major sponsors. I understand that there are a small group of official sponsors, but Coca-Cola was pretty much the only visible sponsor besides P&G (and Samsung – all athletes got a new phone) but you only really noticed that if you were inside the team houses or affiliated with an athlete.

I was surprised that Chobani, as a Team USA sponsor had NO presence in the Team USA house, especially with their 5000 cases of yogurt being stuck in the US. There were interactive and engaging set ups by Coca-Cola and Audi to name a few, but unless you walked over and checked it out, it wasn’t memorable at all. My whole intent of being in Sochi was to mingle with the athletes and their families. I wasn’t looking to sign on new athletes immediately, but rather to continue relationships with people we’ve met through twitter, as well as meet new people we were introduced to. The ultimate goal was face-time with the athletes – to show that we have a genuine, authentic interest in them and their success. This can’t be done by spending a bunch of money to be an official sponsor – that’s not personal enough. Forget whoever said business isn’t personal. It absolutely is.

If you have any specific questions or want to know more about a certain part of the trip, tweet me your questions @jwlevitt!

The slogan of Sochi 2014 is Hot. Cool. Yours. The photos below (my two favorites) were taken only about an hour apart, which should certainly explain the slogan!

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10 thoughts on “Sochi 2014: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

  1. Wow. What As great opportunity ! I am so happy for you to have had this amazing experience and that you have shared some of it with us. I’m sure you’ll be remembering more and more of this adventure in months, maybe years to come. Go Jonathan. !

  2. Seeing the Olympics through Jonathan’s eyes and words was much better than watching it on tv. The personal comments on how he and his friends lived in Soochi added color and verve to this year’s winter sports. He really should develop this into a full story for Sports Illustrated. Go Jonathan!!!!!

  3. Great write up on your Sochi experience – certainly once in a lifetime, for reasons good and bad! Glad you enjoyed and that your travels were all uneventful.

  4. Jonathan, your words took me to Sochi. I have to say I was not real comfortable showering outdoors! Your positive energy helps your readers really feel what your experienced in Sochi.

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